The M.S. and Ph.D. Degree Program underwent a comprehensive curriculum review in 2005-2006, which culminated in a revised curriculum that is recommended to students who are entering the program in Fall 2006 and required of students entering thereafter.

All students take the five Biomedical Informatics core courses: Foundations of Biomedical Informatics, Foundations of Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, Methodological Foundations of Biomedical Informatics, Scientific Communication, and Research Rotation in Biomedical Informatics. In addition, M.S. degree students take two selectives (or must have taken the equivalent prior to entrance in the program); two courses in each of two competency areas: computer science, biomedicine, and research methods; and take one additional elective. Ph.D. students take three selectives; two graduate courses in each of 3 competency areas; and three additional electives. The curriculum is adapted to students’ backgrounds and concentration area. A minimum of 30 formal course credit hours and a thesis are required for the M.S. degree, and a minimum of 72 credits (including research credits) is required for the Ph.D. degree. In addition to earning the M.S. degree, Ph.D. students must complete a teaching practicum, pass a qualifying examination, and successfully propose and defend a dissertation.

Biomedical Informatics Core Courses

Unless waived because of satisfactory completion of a prior similar course, all candidates for the M.S. and PhD degrees are required to take the following five core courses in biomedical informatics:

  • BMIF 6300. Foundations of Biomedical Informatics and Evidence-Based Practice
  • BMIF 6310. Foundations of Bioinformatics and Computational Biology
  • BMIF 6315. Methodological Foundations of Biomedical Informatics
  • BMIF 6321-6322. Scientific Communication
  • BMIF 6341-6342. Research Rotation in Biomedical Informatics

A grade lower than B- for any core course will require the student to repeat the course.

Biomedical Informatics Selectives

M.S. students must choose at least two selectives from this list and Ph.D. students must choose at least three selectives from this list.

  • BMIF 7311. Systems Biology
  • BMIF 7320. Healthcare System and Informatics
  • BMIF 7330. Machine Learning for Biomedicine
  • BMIF 7340. Clinical Information Systems and Databases
  • BMIF 7360. Clinical Research Informatics
  • BMIF 7370. Evaluation Methods in Biomedical Informatics
  • BMIF 7380. Data Privacy in Biomedicine
  • BMIF 7391 Data Management for Clinical & Translational Research (Spring 2017)

Additional courses in development include:

  • Informatics of Systems Biology
  • Biological Networks

Competency Areas

Degree candidates are expected to demonstrate advanced knowledge of identified topics in three competency areas: Computer Science/ Informatics, Biological and Health Sciences, and Research Methods. M.S. degree students take two courses in each of two competency areas and Ph.D. students take two courses in each of three competency areas. Some or all of these courses may have been taken prior to beginning this program - see below for details.

The Competency Areas are as follows:

  • Computer Science/Informatics: compilers and formal languages, complexity, computability, computer organization, data bases, data structures, design and analysis of algorithms, networks, operating systems, programming languages, software engineering.
  • Biological and Health Sciences: principles of cell, organism, and population biology; anatomy, physiology, and mechanisms of disease; nosology, diagnostics, and therapeutics; genetics and molecular medicine.
  • Research Methods: mathematics for computer science (discrete mathematics, probability theory); mathematical statistics, applied statistics, biostatistics, and mathematics for statistics (linear algebra, sampling theory, statistical inference theory, probability); qualitative and quantitative research designs, epidemiology, and methods of systems evaluation.


Students in the M.S. degree program are required to take one elective course relevant to their educational goals and research focus. Students in the Ph.D. degree program are required to take three elective courses. Options for elective courses include courses in Biomedical Informatics that would not otherwise be required of the student, independent study with faculty members, and courses from the competency fields. Other elective courses may be selected if approved by the faculty mentor/research adviser and the Director of Graduate Studies.

DBMI Seminar Series

All students must attend and participate in the DBMI Seminar Series during their course of study. Participation is logged and students are expected to attend 75% of offered seminars. CME for clinicians is available. All students must also participate in the journal club and the ethical conduct of research.

Areas of Concentration

Students in the M.S. and Ph.D. degree programs typically develop an area of concentration that is supported by their elective coursework and research experiences to address a set of challenging questions in our field. Examples of these concentration areas include:

  • Clinical Systems - designs, develops, deploys, and/or evaluates clinical information systems.
  • Decision-Support Systems & Healthcare Decision Sciences - designs, develops, deploys and/or evaluates intelligent decision support tools and decision models/guidelines/policies.
  • Evidence-Based-Practice Concentration Area - uses, designs, develops, deploys and/or evaluates systems for optimal retrieval and application of knowledge from the literature and discovery and application of knowledge from data.
  • Health Policy, Management, and Administration Concentration Area - designs, develops, manages and/or evaluates systems for optimal information application and resource optimization at the basic research, clinical, and organizational domains.
  • Bioinformatics for Molecular Medicine Concentration Area - uses and designs new algorithms and/or software for medical bioinformatics applications and research.
  • Clinical Bioinformatics Concentration Area - designs, executes, and/or evaluates systems for linking molecular biology to disease diagnosis, prevention and treatment.

MS Degree

The MS degree requires 22-34 credits of didactic course work (depending on the student's background and previously taken course work) and the completion of a master thesis.

PhD Degree

The PhD degree requires students to complete a MS degree prior to entering the PhD-track; take at least three additional electives; complete a minimum of 72 credit hours (including research hours); and pass a comprehensive examination, propose, complete, and defend a dissertation.

Combined MD/PhD and MD/MS programs are possible. A part-time MS option, which requires at least a 50% study participation is available. Students also can enter the PhD program through Vanderbilt's Interdisciplinary Graduate Program.

Curriculum Template for MS & PhD in Biomedical Informatics